Take back your holidays from Hallmark

Posted on Feb 13, 2010 in Featured | 3 comments

I already had a post written and scheduled for Valentine’s Day…not about Valentine’s Day, but about love in a way. Then I read Amber’s post at Strocel.com about having The Valentine’s Blues. There were a lot of comments echoing her blues and they are generally representative of what I hear over and over. I’ve often felt that way too. My husband used to say the same things but I told him that I thought his attitude was a cop-out.

It is what you make it.

First, we can lower our expectations. Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be the most romantic day of the year. Acknowledging our love for each other doesn’t have to be a grand gesture and it doesn’t have to be expensive. We can be satisfied with something thoughtful and heartfelt rather than expecting fireworks year after year.

Valentine’s Day can just be an opportunity to tell each other how we feel. We aren’t excused from doing it the rest of the year. It’s just an acknowledgement that we can get busy and forgetful, that we often take our love for granted after many years. It’s kind of nice to have a day set aside to remind us that love is a verb, an action, not a feeling.

I feel like why not take that opportunity? Why shun the whole idea just because a lot of it in our culture has gotten warped and twisted? I don’t like the commercialism of Christmas but I can choose to celebrate the holiday in a way that is authentic to me.

Secondly, it doesn’t have to be a hallmark holiday. We don’t buy cards, flowers or chocolate. We often do something small and simple. One year, Aaron took red electrical tape and made heart shapes all over Eliza’s ceiling before he left for work so I got a surprise when I got up. That was all he did that day but it was touching and sweet. The next year, he made white paper hearts and hung them from strings.

Hearts hanging from the ceiling

Hearts hanging from the ceiling

One year, I wrote a 100 things I love about him on tiny slips of paper and hid them for Aaron to find.

This year, I’m planning to tape coloured hearts on the floor in a trail leading from beds to hiding spots for some gifts for each family member to discover when they wake tomorrow morning. An (oft-begged for) umbrella for Rain, a pair of shoes for Noa and some import beer for Aaron with little notes about why I love them.

There doesn’t have to be anything Hallmark about your holidays. You can choose how you celebrate. You don’t have to fall into the hype and expectations. When I was single, I too felt that Valentine-less angst and that was probably when I felt the most cynical about it. I certainly do understand that it can make people feel left out. Yet, one of my best Valentine’s Days ever was the year that a single guy friend and I decided to spend it together. We exchanged gifts (chocolates and flowers), had an awesome dinner at a vegetarian Indian restaurant and went for a long walk around the seawall in Vancouver. It was such a fun acknowledgement of the day and of our friendship  (which never went further, if you’re wondering). It really showed me that I am in charge of how I approach a supposed Hallmark Holiday.

Since then, I’ve also chosen to extend the day beyond just my partner. Now that Rain is in preschool (and soon Kindergarten), there is the expectation of celebrating with his peers. This is kind of complicated because I don’t want to encourage the whole boyfriend/girlfriend thing at such a young age and besides, the classes usually (rightfully) ask that Valentines are sent for everyone in the class. It is a fun holiday for kids with the opportunities for crafts, the hearts, the treats and the ultimate for most kids: getting cards (kid equivalent to mail). For our family then, I started extending it into our home. It doesn’t have to be a holiday just for mates. Why wouldn’t I want to tell my kids how much I love them too?

One of the complicated issues with school-age celebrations of Valentine’s Day is the cards. Having to buy some themed cards from the latest tv show or movie and knowing that they will likely all end up in the recycling was kind of odious to me. I contemplated giving candy instead but that didn’t seem a great option either. We ended up settling on a picture of Rain in the hope that it would at least last a little longer than the store-bought cards. Plus it has the added benefit of not supporting the marketing to kids of tv characters and of being homemade. We made these by printing them on a 8×10 photo paper and cutting them out in strips.

When we lower our expectations about the day and consider that any authentic gesture is enough, it allows our loved ones to be themselves. They no longer have the pressure to perform all day or in a big way. They can do something for us that truly shows us how they love us, rather than how some corporation thinks they should tell us.

We can start fresh. You can choose to do something different tomorrow. Write a note and tape it to the mirror. Stick a bouquet of crocusses (croci?) you picked from your yard in a cup on the dash of the car as a morning surprise. It won’t matter if you aren’t together all day or if you can’t go for dinner because you have no babysitter. Just do one thing. Even if they don’t reciprocate this year, I can guarantee that in coming years they will when they realise that you aren’t expecting the Hollywood gesture.

We can take back our holiday celebrations from the media and the corporations. Skip the Hallmark cards – make one yourself. Buy the chocolate on sale on Monday and make Amber’s cinnamon bark instead. Be creative. Be genuine. Don’t try to top the year before. Lower your expectations. Do one small thing to tell your beloveds how you feel. It’s worth it, believe me.

What do you think? Would this fly at your house or do you think that Hallmark and the blues are too entrenched?


  1. In the past we have done things like this on Valentine’s Day. I think maybe we’ve gotten lazy over the years, or busy. That IS sort of a cop-out, but it’s also true that Valentine’s Day needs to be sort of a mutual thing. I’m not sure if my husband, as fabulous as he is, would be up for making these sorts of gestures, and then that leaves me in a bit of a bind. Do I make them myself, and risk feeling irked again when I get a Home Depot gift certificate in return?

    At this point, I would say I use a combination of lowering my expectations and shifting the focus to my kids. We made Valentines for my daughter to hand out at school, and I got my kids a couple of small treats that I know they will love. My husband and I decided to treat the new bed we bought our toddler as our own Valentine’s gift to each other, and then we get each other chocolate because we need chocolate. It mostly works, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel a little jealous when my cubicle neighbour at work got a big flower arrangement delivered and I didn’t. It’s hard not to see the delivery guy and get just a little invested, you know?
    .-= Amber´s last blog ..The Valentine Blues =-.
    Twitter: AmberStrocel

    • Amber, I have to remember that we’ve only been together for half as long as you two have. I can see how you’d run out of ideas or energy. An open conversation about expectations could be helpful: “I don’t want a gift unless it’s something you KNOW for sure I’d want. You don’t have to get me a gift card just because you think I expect a gift. A note will do.” And Chocolate obviously. 🙂

      But yeah, I find shifting some of the focus to the kids does make it all more fun (and more creative).

      I too know that big flower envy. My husband is really not very romantic and hearing about some people’s marriage proposals for example does give me a bit of a pang.

      I hope this post didn’t feel like a personal attack. I find your blog often jump starts my ideas and I appreciate your Valentines post because it really does sum up most people’s experience – including my own at various times in my life.

  2. My husband surprised me with inexpensive earrings and a bottle of wine I like, I wrote a list of 50 things I love about him and made a nicer dinner than usual, and we watched a movie curled up with the kids… I think had I expected him to do anything special I would’ve felt let down, but letting go of expectations surrounding things like Valentine’s Day is much easier on everyone. 🙂
    .-= Natalie @ Naddy’s Blog´s last blog ..New Header 🙂 =-.
    Twitter: naddys_blog

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